Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society Review [In Depth]

Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society

Alex author
Founder, writer
Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society header

Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society Details

Distillery: Maker’s Mark

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 54.7%

Composition: 70% corn, 16% winter wheat, 14% malted barley

Aged: Not stated

Color: 1.5/2.0 on the color scale (auburn, polished mahogany)

Price: $60-70

From the company website:

“Beginning as fully matured Maker’s Mark at cask strength, Private Selection is created by adding 10 custom wood finishing staves to each barrel. It’s then aged in our limestone cellar to extract a unique, flavorful taste profile. Participants in this special barrel program get their say in the selection of these wooden staves. The finishing staves can be any combination of five flavor profiles chosen especially for this program. With 1,001 possible stave combinations, each expression of Private Selection has a customized finish and taste profile that is unique, yet undeniably Maker’s.”

Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society overview

These days, I usually try to avoid reviewing barrel picks mainly because they aren’t useful for most readers. There are some exceptions, mainly when it only exists as a barrel pick (e.g., Old Forester Barrel Strength, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Single Barrel) or when I’m compelled to do one.
This time, I’m compelled to do one because I apparently have some fans in El Paso, Texas, and more specifically the people at the El Paso Stave Society. I’ve been messaging with one of the members (you know who you are) for a while now. Eventually, he / the group decided that I should try one of their Maker’s Mark picks, and I said yes.
El Paso Stave Society is a group of people that gets together a few times every month to share drinks (whiskey and more) and cigars. They apparently meet at a vintage car repairs shop garage, which is a really cool setting to get together.
Onto the bourbon. Maker’s Mark, the massive and old Kentucky distillery now owned by Beam Suntory, is the rare distillery that doesn’t actually do barrel picks. They do the “pick your own stave combination” experience where you get to decide how to allocate (shudder) 10 staves across 5 different types of staves, each infusing their own personality into the bourbon. And with just about a 1000 different stave combinations + staves having a life of their, you can craft something unique.
At the same time, I don’t think that you have any control over the barrel of bourbon that is stave finished. You pick the staves and they pick the barrel. It’s both cool and kind of weird, because it kind of makes it sound like the barrel you get doesn’t matter much…and believe me it should. I’ve done some barrel picks and oh boy some of the options are bad.
This selection uses the following stave combination
  • 2 baked american pure
  • 4 maker’s mark 46
  • 1 roasted french mendiant
  • 3 toasted french spice
Using his words, the group had a profile in mind, or at least one to avoid. He messaged to nme, “because I’m not a fan of the typical dough forward/ grassy/ chocolatey MM note, I tried to steer the group towards a more fruity, tropical, rye profile, and that’s what we tried to accomplish.” I like the malt chocolate part, but wholeheartedly agree about avoiding the grassy and doughy part. It’s just not a good part of modern Maker’s profile. Fun fact, it really wasn’t there in the mid 2010’s and before.
Really, I’ve been supremely fortunate to have drink old Maker’s, and it’s a totally different experience what they offer today.
For reference, I’ve reviewed the following dusty Maker’s Mark bourbons.
I don’t have any commentary on the staves besides that I hope it’s good. If I were to pick a blend, I would try to get the most fruity blend I could make, with as much date, apricot and chocolate as possible to emulate dusty Maker’s Mark. I don’t know how to do that, but I would know it when I smelled and tasted it.
This bottle, selected by people who like what I do and want my opinion, introduces a unique situation. How can I be honest and not offend individuals in the event that the booze isn’t great? For media samples, I personally have gone down the path of relationships be damned, be honest in my reviews. They are companies trying to make money from these products – they can handle it.
The dynamic is different when individuals pick something and want to share it. There’s more of a personal connection with that bottle. Then again, if you believe in it then it shouldn’t be a problem.
Being honest, often brutally so, seems to have worked for me so far, but that philosophy has inevitably pissed off some companies and then the media samples stopped coming. I don’t hold any grudges, but I know exactly who you are. I don’t have a vendetta against any company – I truly want to love everything. Whether I actually enjoy it is a different thing entirely.
Let’s find out what the group at the El Paso Stave Society picked in this Maker’s Mark Private Select Bourbon review.
Thank you to the El Paso Stave Society for sending me this bottle. All opinions are still my own.
Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society front

As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for everything (they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass Set of 6, Set of 4Set of 2, or just one. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society smell

The scents have brown sugar, candied cherries, vanilla cream, mocha, lightly effervescent roasted oak, cinnamon, baked red apples, orange peel, dark chocolate, and a little dry grassiness. This El Paso Stave Society Maker’s Mark Private Select already smells fantastic with great dark sweetness and fruitines, and a pleasant and moderated oak and mocha background. The heat is very well controlled so it’s easy to smell
It’s not as defined and leap out of the glass expressive as I’d prefer (admittedly I have a very high bar), but it feels mature and complex already. I really enjoy that darker mocha and chocolate backdrop that make it smell older, dare I say Russell’s 13 Year-esque (gasp!). It’s a pleasant and older-feeling oakiness.
For a bit of a weird comment. This Private Select doesn’t have the same level of expressive effervescent oak as Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged does. It’s a strange comparison because Cellar Aged is a 11-12 year old blend of Maker’s, but Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged always comes to mind when I think of Maker’s Mark, because it’s the best thing they’ve release in years.
After swirling, I smell fragrant caramel, vanilla, candied cherry, that great effervescent oak, candied ginger, vanilla frosting, baked red apples, nutmeg, mocha, dark chocolate, and some grassy nuttiness. Swirling and 13ish minutes of rest makes it smell so different. There’s more of that expressive oakiness that enhances the oakiness.
El Paso Stave Society Maker’s Mark Private Select Smells great with a great mix of rich sweetness, fruitiness, and oakiness all blending together well. The fruitiness has a nice brightness at times to come through the oak and dark chocolate as well.
If I had to nitpick, I wish that there were more low-end roundness and overall definition, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s so much better than the 2021 Maker’s Mark Cask Strength I previously reviewed. It’s so well blended.
Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society side

Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society taste and aftertaste

On my first few sips, I taste honey, cherry, vanilla extract, roasted oak, this other distinct oakiness that’s a mix of dried grass and freshly cut wood, baked red apple, roasted coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bit of 90% cocoa dark chocolate. The heat is also very well controlled.
Compared to the scents, the flavors have more roastiness, oakiness, and dryness. That all probably comes from the stave finish, which you know…uses wood. While the oakiness is more present, there’s still good richness across the board so it feels balanced. Of course not every bourbon has to be balanced the same way, but it feels well balanced in its own particular way
I wish that there was a bit more pop or flavorful zing to suck me in, but I do my best to not agitate the bourbon at all for part 1. That could all come with “chewing”, which it did for Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged.
With strong “chewing”, I taste caramel, vanilla frosting, cherry, a lot of toasted oak and cinnamon, baked red apple with clove and nutmeg, mocha, dark chocolate, and some grassiness. “Chewing” pulls out more sweetness, oakiness, and coffee-iness (English isn’t my strength), and it transforms the experience for the better.
It’s more oak and spice-forward, but there’s still a lot of everything else to amply balance it. El Paso Stave Society Maker’s Mark Private Select is rich and expressive with some cherry and apricot pop. It all feels so well put together, but I wish it had a more viscous mouthfeel to fill out the whole experience
This is probably a 7-8 year old bourbon, but it has the maturity, depth, and character of an older one, so the staves worked their magic.
The aftertaste leaves caramel, cherry, orange peel, roasted oak, light grassiness, and roasted coffee with lingering toasted oak, coffee, and a hint of dairy creamer.
After “chewing”, there’s caramel, baked red apple, orange peel, dried cherry, a lot of roasted oak and cinnamon, and coffee, with lingering toasted oak, mocha, nuttiness, and vanilla. It coates my mouth with lightly bitter and drying oak tannins, very much an oak / stave-driven bourbon.
My complaint with prior Maker’s Private Selects and in general has been that they feel rushed, meaning that they have overdone grassiness + gumminess and lack developed character, but that’s not at all an issue here.
This is excellent. I didn’t know that Maker’s could make something like this anymore, short of their super limited stuff that I can’t get.
Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society back
I’ve unfortunately lost some Glencairn’s while in transit, and that made me very sad. So, I wised up and bought this Glencairn Travel Case that comes also comes with 2 glasses so I don’t need to worry so much about them breaking. I think it’s great, and I think you’ll love it too. Seriously, if you already have glasses, protect them.

Maker's Mark Private Select El Paso Stave Society Rating

Top Shelf
I have a bit of a mixed history with Maker’s Mark releases from the past few years, but this El Paso Stave Society Maker’s Mark Private Select makes me rethink my usual suspicion of Maker’s Mark. Sure, Maker’s has some hits and some misses as any other distillery does, but this particular blend of staves is a hit for me.
And I promise, this isn’t lip service to the people who sent me the bottle so I don’t offend anyone. This is for real. I’ve pissed off enough companies and people with my honesty, and I’m not about to stop now.
This is a hit because it checks off virtually all the boxes that I look for in any amazing bourbon, of which there are many types. As stave finishes often are, there’s an extra woodiness, roastiness, and spiciness to everything, but thankfully there’s plenty of everything else that it doesn’t feel weird.
The rich fruit, especially the cherry and apple, holds up well, and thankfully there’s no overdone grassiness or wheaty gumminess that I find in other Maker’s Mark releases that scream “rushed”. It feels more developed, and it all comes together just right in the glass.
For science (of course duh), I tried some 2014 Maker’s Mark Cask Strength to informally remind myself if it felt different – and it did. Among other things, the older release (without any stave finish) had more body, viscosity, and brooding low-end. It was also more or less equally as woody and spicy. It could mean any number of things, but for me I think it means that Maker’s Mark from years past, even in 2014, was releasing older and “better” (because that part is subjective) bourbon. It held up beautifully on its own right out of the barrel.
More recent releases, including even this Private Select, have the markings of the less mature bourbon, with less richness and viscosity. The blend of staves here significantly elevates the base bourbon, which is a testament to the group that picked it.
Unfortunately, I don’t know if Maker’s Mark is going to do much to improve the base bourbon anytime soon, especially when they don’t have an incentive to do it. It’s not like people are going to stop buying it because they realize that it was better 10+ years ago. Makers was even better in the 1990’s, so hopefully the downward trend doesn’t continue.
But with this Private Select at least, I had a moment of clarity that Maker’s Mark can still produce great bourbon that puts it right in the conversation with other great bourbons. Well done El Paso Stave Society, I approve.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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Shattered glass really sucks, so if you’re on the move, this Glencairn-like stainless steel snifter glass should survive your travels. Full transparency, this is an Amazon affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)

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